By Dave Henkel and Sara Colangelo
Welcome to the world of triathlon! Get ready to work hard, have fun, and love lycra. I’ve been training and racing for about 15 years now but I still keep two principles in mind from my earliest days: keep it simple and this is a lifelong sport! Below are some tips for anyone considering becoming a triathlete.
Note: these suggestions assume you are starting with a sprint distance race (typically about 750m swim, 15 mile bike, 5k run).
1. Your goal is only to finish. Period.
It doesn’t matter how many marathons you might have done or whether you were a collegiate swimmer. Triathlon is its own beast: it’s three athletic disciplines mixed with nutrition, gear, and nerves. It is a huge accomplishment to finish any distance triathlon. This “beginner’s mindset” will keep you curious about what you can do and happier at the finish line, guaranteed.
2. You’re not alone.
On race morning, the transition area (where you set up your bike and other gear) can look pretty intimidating with everyone in their race kits and/or wetsuits. But remember, there are MANY newbies at each race! Don’t be afraid to ask a question of someone racking next to you in transition or a volunteer or a USAT race official. And remember, everyone started out just like you at his or her first race, too!
3. When training, you don’t have to complete the entire distance in each discipline ahead of time.
Do you commute 10 miles to work on your bike a few times a week but you’ve never ridden 15 miles at one time? Never swum 750 meters without a break? Not to worry. The reason you train each discipline multiple times a week over an 8-12 week period (again, assuming you’re doing a sprint) is to build an internal engine that can handle doing all three disciplines in a row on race day.
4. Rest is your friend!
This is the biggest mistake newer triathletes make. Rest the week leading up to the race with a few easy workouts (shorter duration, with just a few race pace efforts sprinkled in). You’ve already put in the work. You must now rest so you can come into “form” – that is, it’s time to stop building fitness and let your body rest so it can tap into what you’ve built!
5. Do at least 3 transition runs before your race.
For example, a one hour bike followed by a 15-20 minute run. Even better, try for at least 1 transition run a week during your 8-12 weeks of training. No matter how experienced of a runner you may be, running off the bike feels different. You must train your mind to have confidence your legs will come back to you, and you must train your legs to get used to the switch from cycling to running. To help facilitate this change, be sure to spin your legs in an easier gear the last minute of your bike coming in to transition on race day.
6. Train with anything you might eat or drink on race day.
Do you love Nuun Electrolytes or Nuun Performance? (Of course you do!) Plan to use it on race day? Great, then train with exactly what you plan to use. Things have a way of feeling wacky in your stomach when your heart rate is high. Be sure to test your hydration or nutrition in high intensity or longer duration training sessions ahead of time.
7. On that point - drink before the gun goes off to STAY HYDRATED.
The nuuniverse is familiar with this slogan! For a sprint distance race, your body actually doesn’t need any fluids or nutrition. However, most people have water or an electrolyte beverage on board their bike and some take a gel or other quick carb source before starting the run. Regardless of what you choose to take or not take during the race, beforehand consume at least 1 bottle of fluid with electrolytes!
8. Forget the fancy gear you see in pictures.
For your first race you do not need a tri (time trial) bike, you don’t need a fancy helmet, etc. You need: a race suit or swim suit that you are comfortable doing all three disciplines in; a pair of goggles; a bike (road or hybrid is fine); bike shoes if you’re clipping in; a helmet; and running shoes.
9. Sportsmanship and attitude matter.
Remember to SMILE, HAVE FUN, THANK VOLUNTEERS, and BE FRIENDLY to other competitors. This is supposed to be fun! Cheer for yourself as you complete each discipline and fist pump across the finish line – you will always remember your first race to make it a great one!
10. Don’t forget the basics as you progress.
Once your first race is done, you may be ready to sign up for another sprint and aim to go faster, or you may want to tackle a longer distance race. These principles apply as you step up the intensity and/or duration of your races. In fact, certain concepts such as practicing race nutrition ahead of time become absolutely critical to your race execution.
Feel free to reach out to us here at Speed Sherpa if you have any questions, and please cheer for our athletes if you see them out on a race course near you!!!
Dave Henkel is the Head Coach and co-founder of Speed Sherpa:Mindful Coaching and Triathlon Team. Dave has qualified for 6 World Championships including long course, short course, and off-road races. Dave is a USAT certified coach and has been coaching for several years. Dave and his tri wife Sara are both proud Nuun Elite athletes, and new parents. They live in Northern Virginia, but Dave coaches athletes across the country and is passionate about helping them all surpass their goals. You can connect with them over Instagram or Twitter, or follow the adventures of all of their athletes on Facebook!
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